Many Democratic voters and activists are giddy about their party’s chances of retaking the House in 2018. Savoring surprise victories in Alabama, Pennsylvania and Virginia, they have visions of a blue wave election. If political history were the only guide, they would be right. Polls in recent days have shown Democrats with around a 9-point average lead on the generic congressional ballot, which asks Americans which party they’ll vote for in the coming election. Under ordinary conditions, a lead that size would be more than enough to net the 24 seats Democrats need to regain a majority. But a big reality check is in order. Even the strongest blue wave may crash up against a powerful structural force in American politics: extreme gerrymandering. Pending court cases, including one scheduled to be argued before the Supreme Court on Wednesday (in which our organization filed an amicus brief), may change the terrain going forward. But no matter how the high court rules, its decision will almost certainly come too late to affect the 2018 vote.
Pennsylvania: Supreme Court turns down gerrymander appeal from Pennsylvania’s GOP | Los Angeles Times
The Supreme Court refused Monday to block a new election map for Pennsylvania that gives Democrats a chance to win four or more congressional seats in November. The justices turned down a second and final appeal from Pennsylvania’s Republican leaders, who defended the gerrymandered districts that had given them a steady 13-5 advantage over the Democrats for years. The new map gives Democrats a good chance to win half of the 18 House seats. Last week, they celebrated picking up a Republican seat when Conor Lamb claimed victory in a special election for a seat in southwestern Pennsylvania. Republicans have not conceded that race as final provisional ballots are counted. Lamb and all other candidates will run this fall in districts that have been redrawn.
Pennsylvania: Lack of court action on new Pennsylvania voting map causing concern | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
With Tuesday’s deadline for filing nominating petitions imminent, prospective candidates waiting for courts to take action on Pennsylvania’s radically reconfigured congressional map learned Friday that the wait will continue. By day’s end Friday, neither the U.S. Supreme Court nor the U.S. District Court here had decided whether to grant requests from Republican lawmakers who want them to overturn the new congressional map put in place by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which ruled that lines drawn in 2011 represented an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander favoring Republicans. Members of both parties and outside experts appeared to be at a loss to explain the courts’ inaction. The delay, at least on the U.S. Supreme Court side, is “quite unusual,” said Richard L. Hasen, a law and political science professor at the University of California, Irvine.
Iowa: ‘Backdoor gerrymandering’ just one of Iowa GOP election-rigging attempts | Des Moines Register’
Iowa prides itself on its clean elections. Our state’s nonpartisan redistricting, which ensures fair treatment for both major parties, is a model for the nation. But that doesn’t mean Iowa is immune from efforts to twist the election process to the advantage of the party in power. Two bills moving in the Iowa Legislature are notable examples. The Iowa Senate last week approved a bill that would put Republicans at the top of the ballot in 98 out of 99 counties for the 2018 general election.
Even as the Supreme Court takes more time than expected to decide its part in the constitutional controversy over how voting is to be done this year for the 18 House of Representatives members from Pennsylvania, a federal trial court in Harrisburg, PA, is pondering a complex question of states’ rights that could end the case there without a decision on who wins. The difficulty for the three judges sitting in the state’s capital city arises from the reality that, whenever a lawsuit is started in a federal court, that court has to have the authority to decide it, and there is significant controversy over whether the Harrisburg court has that authority. The controversy is keyed to the most basic understandings about the nature of the Constitution’s division of powers between state and federal courts. For decades, the general understanding has been that only the Supreme Court has the authority to review a state court ruling, and then only when the state court has issued a ruling that involves the federal Constitution. That is a strong gesture toward federalism – respect for states’ rights in limiting national government power.
Pennsylvania: Federal judges hear arguments in congressional map fight: Should they block new map? | Philadelphia Inquirer
A panel of federal judges, asked by GOP lawmakers to block the new Pennsylvania congressional map, on Friday questioned whether it should wait for the U.S. Supreme Court to act on a similar request and if blocking the map would further disrupt an already tumultuous election cycle. The three judges — Chief U.S. District Judge Christopher C. Conner for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, Judge Kent A. Jordan of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, and District Judge Jerome B. Simandle for the District of New Jersey — were equally aggressive Friday in questioning both sides in the case during four hours of testimony. They said they would release a decision soon. A group of eight congressmen and two state Senate leaders, all Republicans, are seeking a preliminary injunction to stop implementation of the congressional map imposed last month by the state high court, arguing that the court stole power that the Constitution gives to state lawmakers.
President Trump added his voice on Saturday to the continued conservative outcry over the court-ordered redistricting of the Pennsylvania congressional map, calling the decision “very unfair to Republicans and to our country.” “Democrat judges have totally redrawn election lines in the great State of Pennsylvania,” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter. “This is very unfair to Republicans and to our country as a whole. Must be appealed to the United States Supreme Court ASAP!” The Supreme Court this month denied a request from Pennsylvania Republicans to stop the state’s highest court from requiring lawmakers to redraw the map of the state’s 18 House districts. The new map, released by the state court this past week, effectively eliminates the Republican advantage in Pennsylvania, endangering several incumbent Republican seats and bolstering Democrat standings in two open races.
Responding to complaints about partisan gerrymandering, a significant number of states this year are considering changing the criteria used to draw congressional and state legislative districts or shifting the task from elected officials to citizen commissions. The proposals, being advanced both as ballot initiatives and legislation, are part of a larger battle between the political parties to best position themselves for the aftermath of the 2020 Census, when over 400 U.S. House districts and nearly 7,400 state legislative districts will be redrawn. Since the start of this year, more than 60 bills dealing with redistricting criteria and methods have been introduced in at least 18 state legislatures, already equaling the total number of states that considered bills last year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
President Donald Trump wants Pennsylvania Republicans to fight the implementation of a court-drawn congressional map that threatens a half-dozen GOP-held seats this November, but most operatives and experts see little hope in a legal challenge to the new districts. Republicans in Harrisburg and Washington say they’re moving ahead with legal action to stop the new map. But, behind the scenes, Republican consultants are already urging their clients to get ready for these new districts in 2018. “I’m advising my clients to prepare for the worst-case scenario: that these are the maps this year,” said Mark Harris, a Republican consultant based in Pennsylvania.
Republicans will file suit to block the new map of Pennsylvania’s congressional districts as soon as Wednesday, officials said. Matt Gorman, communications director for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said Tuesday state and federal officials “will sue in federal court as soon as tomorrow to prevent the new partisan map from taking effect.” Top Senate Republican lawyer Drew Crompton said Monday a separation of powers case will form the essence of the GOP’s argument, according to The Associated Press. Republicans again will argue the U.S. Constitution gives state legislatures and governors, not courts, the power to draw congressional boundaries, AP reported.
The morning John Kennedy was set to testify last December, he woke up at 1:30 am, in an unfamiliar hotel room in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, adrenaline coursing through his veins. He’d never gone to court before for anything serious, much less taken the stand. Some time after sunrise, he headed to the courthouse, dressed in a gray Brooks Brothers suit, and spent the next several hours reviewing his notes and frantically pacing the halls. “I think I made a groove in the floor,” Kennedy says. By 3:30 pm, it was finally time. Kennedy’s answers started off slowly, as he worked to steady his nerves. Then, about an hour into his testimony, Exhibit 81 flashed on a screen inside the courtroom. It was a map of part of Pennsylvania’s seventh congressional district, but it might as well have been a chalk outline of a body. “It was like a crime scene,” explains Daniel Jacobson, an attorney for Arnold & Porter, which represented the League of Women Voters in its bid to overturn Pennsylvania’s 2011 electoral map, drawn by the state’s majority Republican General Assembly. The edges of the district skitter in all manner of unnatural directions, drawing comparisons to a sketch of Goofy kicking Donald Duck.
Pennsylvania: State Supreme Court releases new congressional map for 2018 elections | Philadelphia Inquirer
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Monday released a new congressional district map to be used for the 2018 elections for U.S. House seats.Its plan splits only 13 counties. Of those, four counties are split into three districts and nine are split into two districts. By contrast the most recent map, enacted in 2011, split 28 counties. It also includes significant changes to the state map, including dividing Philadelphia into only two congressional districts; currently three House members represent parts of the city. In another win for local Democrats, the fourth district is centered on Montgomery County. Critics of the map adopted in 2011 often pointed to Montgomery County, which was split into five districts in that plan and had no member of congress living in the county. Bucks, Chester, and Delaware counties also receive districts based largely on their areas.
Perhaps no event will do more to reshape the fight for control of the House than the new congressional map just released by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. At stake was the fate of a Republican gerrymander that intended to cement a 13-5 Republican advantage in an evenly divided state. Now the Republicans will have little to no advantage at all. Democrats couldn’t have asked for much more from the new map. It’s arguably even better for them than the maps they proposed themselves. Over all, a half-dozen competitive Republican-held congressional districts move to the left, endangering several incumbent Republicans, one of whom may now be all but doomed to defeat, and improving Democratic standing in two open races. Based on recent election results, the new congressional map comes very close to achieving partisan balance.
In Pennsylvania, a Republican lawmaker unhappy with a State Supreme Court ruling on gerrymandering wants to impeach the Democratic justices who authored it. In Iowa, a running dispute over allowing firearms in courthouses has prompted bills by Republican sponsors to slash judges’ pay and require them to personally pay rent for courtrooms that are gun-free. In North Carolina, the Republican Party is working on sweeping changes to rein in state courts that have repeatedly undercut or blocked laws passed by the legislature. Rather than simply fighting judicial rulings, elected officials in some states across the country — largely Republicans, but Democrats as well — are increasingly seeking to punish or restrain judges who hand down unfavorable decisions, accusing them of making law instead of interpreting it.
On Wednesday night, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court finally released its majority opinion explaining why Republicans’ gerrymander of Pennsylvania’s congressional districts violates the state constitution. (On Jan. 22, the court had issued a brief order directing the Legislature to redraw the illegal districts without fully explaining its reasoning.) Justice Debra McCloskey Todd’s 139-page opinion for the court is thorough and persuasive—and, critically, its reasoning isn’t entirely limited to Pennsylvania. Instead, Todd illustrates how dozens of other state constitutions may be interpreted to protect voting rights more robustly than the U.S. Constitution does. Her decision will arm activists in every state with a powerful new tool in the fight against political redistricting.
Pennsylvania: Republicans have drawn a new congressional map that is just as gerrymandered as the old one – The Washington Post
Last month the Pennsylvania Supreme Court instructed the state’s Republican-led legislature to draw a new congressional map after finding the existing one was an illegal partisan gerrymander that violated voters’ right to participate in “free and equal elections.” On Friday, Republican leaders in the legislature submitted their new map for the governor’s approval. As directed by the Supreme Court, the new map is much more compact than the old one. Gone are the infamous convolutions that characterized the old map, earning nicknames such as “Goofy kicking Donald Duck.” The new districts generally respect county and municipal boundaries and don’t “wander seemingly arbitrarily across Pennsylvania,” as the state’s Supreme Court wrote. Unfortunately for Pennsylvania voters, the new districts show just as much partisan bias as the old ones. #url#
Pennsylvania: GOP proposes a new congressional map. Democrats say it’s still gerrymandered | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
A proposed new map of Pennsylvania congressional districts may have sanded off some of the rougher edges of the current version, but it still amounts to a pro-Republican gerrymander, a chorus of Democrats complained Saturday as they urged Gov. Tom Wolf to reject it. The governor, whose administration is combing through the proposal with the advice of a prominent mathematics professor, is expected to announce his position on the new map early this week.
If there was any doubt that state Senate leader Phil Berger, House Speaker Tim Moore, redistricting czars Rep. David Lewis and Sen. Ralph Hise and others in the North Carolina legislature’s Republican leadership are marching to the beat of a drummer only they can hear, the U.S. Supreme Court offered loud and clear evidence Monday. We can only hope the message made it through to Berger and his gang. Justice Samuel Alito turned down a request from the state’s Republicans to delay redrawing congressional district lines. He said GOP legislative leaders in Pennsylvania violated the state constitution by unfairly favoring Republicans.
North Carolina: After Supreme Court ruling, gerrymander challengers turn to state court for relief | News & Observer
Democrats and voters who filed the first lawsuit this decade challenging North Carolina lawmakers’ redistricting plans went back to state court on Wednesday, seven years after challenging the 2011 election maps, seeking relief from districts they contend still weaken the overall influence of black voters. The request comes the day after the U.S. Supreme Court partially granted a request from Republican lawmakers to block election lines drawn by a Stanford University law professor for four state House districts in Wake County and one House district in Mecklenburg County while they appealed a three-judge panel’s ruling. Republicans contended in the federal case that some of the legal questions should have been settled in state court because they involved questions about violations to the state constitution, but now they are speaking out against further proceedings there.
On Monday night, the Ohio state Senate did something truly unprecedented: With near-unanimous support from both Republicans and Democrats, the chamber approved Senate Resolution 5, a measure that would for the first time require bipartisan input and approval for federal congressional maps. The measure is expected to pass the state House today, and it will appear on the ballot in the May primary elections to get final approval from voters. As it stands, there are few state guidelines on federal redistricting in Ohio. As in most states, the power to create maps rests with the state legislature, which usually means that the party in power—right now, it’s the GOP—ends up calling the shots. There are also few requirements for community disclosure or involvement. The only real constraints that exist are those under federal court rulings and the Voting Rights Act, which prohibit racial gerrymandering and ensure districts have roughly the same populations. So far, the result of those limited rules has been a congressional map that, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, has consistently led to Republican partisan bias.
Pennsylvania: State Supreme Court releases gerrymandering opinion: 2011 map violates ‘free and equal’ elections | Philadelphia Inquirer
Pennsylvania’s congressional map, as adopted in 2011, violates the state constitution’s guarantee that “elections shall be free and equal,” the state Supreme Court said Wednesday in an opinion explaining its gerrymandering order overturning the map more than two weeks ago. “An election corrupted by extensive, sophisticated gerrymandering and partisan dilution of votes is not ‘free and equal,’ ” Justice Debra McCloskey Todd wrote for the majority. In such circumstances, a “power, civil or military,” to wit, the General Assembly, has in fact “interfere[d] to prevent the free exercise of the right of suffrage.” The opinion came just two days before the deadline for lawmakers to pass a new congressional district map and send it to Gov. Wolf for approval, after the high court declared Pennsylvania’s congressional map an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander, drawn to benefit Republicans at Democrats’ expense.
The United States Supreme Court on Monday refused to stop Pennsylvania’s highest court from requiring lawmakers there to redraw the state’s congressional map, which the state court had found to be marred by partisan gerrymandering. The Supreme Court’s order was expected, as the Pennsylvania court had based its decision solely on the state constitution. On matters of state law, the judgments of state supreme courts are typically final. The order, which gave no reasons, came from Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., who acted without referring the case to the full court. The Supreme Court has been busy lately addressing cases on partisan gerrymandering, in which the party in power draws voting districts to give its candidates lopsided advantages. It is considering two such cases, from Wisconsin and Maryland, and has intervened in a third one, from North Carolina. But all of those cases were decided by federal courts.
Editorials: North Carolina has the worst gerrymander in US history. What else is new? | Gene Nichol/News & Observer
In mid-January, yet again, a three-judge federal court ruled the redistricting work of the North Carolina General Assembly to be a knowing, intentional and hugely impactful violation of the U.S. Constitution. This time the court struck down the apportionment of our federal congressional districts as an impermissible, extreme, partisan political gerrymander – designed, admittedly and successfully, to entrench Republicans in power and handicap their adversaries. The state yawned. We’re used to it. Rick Hasen, a professor at California-Irvine, is often said to be the nation’s leading election law expert. Hasen wrote that the decision could hardly be seen as a surprise, given what our legislature did. “If there is any case that could be invalidated as a partisan gerrymander, it is this one,” he indicated. It is “the most brazen and egregious” political electoral distortion yet seen in the United States. North Carolina leaders “admitted the practice, but argued it should be seen as perfectly legal.”
In 2012, Pennsylvania voters backed Barack Obama over Mitt Romney by a 5.4 percent margin — and Republicans won 13 of the state’s 18 congressional races. This did not happen because Obama won large numbers of ticket-splitting conservative voters, but rather, because Keystone State Republicans had drafted one of the most spectacularly biased congressional maps in a nation in full of them. A little over a week ago, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that said map “clearly, plainly and palpably” violated the state constitution. Now, a leader of the state’s Republican Party is refusing to comply with a court order related to that ruling — on the grounds that his interpretation of Pennsylvania’s constitution overrides that of the state Supreme Court.
Editorials: The Supreme Court’s Elections Clause dilemma in Pennsylvania | Lyle Denniston/Constitution Daily
The Constitution has had an Elections Clause since it first went into effect in 1789, but the Supreme Court has rarely given an interpretation of its meaning. But what the Supreme Court has said creates a dilemma for the Justices as they decide soon what to do about the claim that Pennsylvania’s state legislature engaged in partisan gerrymandering when it drew up election districts for choosing the state’s 18 members of the U.S. House of Representatives. Republican legislative leaders in the state have asked the Justices to put on hold, and then review, a decision earlier this month by the state Supreme Court that the 2011 congressional map was a partisan-driven effort and that it violates the state constitution. The voters and political organizations that won the case in the state’s highest court have been told to file by Friday a reply to the request for a postponement of the ruling at issue. The state GOP leaders’ first hurdle will be to persuade five of the nine Justices to grant a postponement. But an even bigger hurdle is to persuade the Justices that the Supreme Court should get involved in second-guessing the state court’s interpretation of its own constitution.
National: Like Abstract Expressionists, They Draw the Free-Form Political Maps Now Under Scrutiny | The New York Times
In a big partisan gerrymandering case that will come before the Supreme Court in March, lawyers, and judges have already devoted thousands of words to the question of why some of Maryland’s eight congressional districts are so, ah, creatively drawn. But the best answer by far comes from the man who drew them. In 2011, Eric Hawkins lugged a laptop loaded with demographic data and a program called Maptitude to Capitol Hill and the offices of the state’s six Democratic House members. Over a series of meetings of which there apparently are no written records, Mr. Hawkins not only crafted new districts for those members, but rerouted the district of 10-term Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett to make it substantially more challenging for a Republican. In the first election after the new maps were drawn, Mr. Bartlett failed to muster even 38 percent of the vote. And Maryland Democrats added another House seat to the six they already boasted. Asked in a deposition last year why the state’s Democratic House members met with him, Mr. Hawkins was refreshingly forthcoming. “They wanted to get re-elected,” he said.
Pennsylvania: The Supreme Court may have signaled that it might block Pennsylvania’s ruling against partisan gerrymandering | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Supreme Court was seen as signaling Monday it may be open to blocking a state ruling on partisan gerrymandering at the behest of Pennsylvania’s Republican leaders. Last week, Pennsylvania’s high court struck down the state’s election districts on the grounds they were drawn to give the GOP a 13-5 majority of its seats in the House of Representatives. Unlike other recent rulings, the state justices said they based their ruling solely on the state’s constitution. Usually, the U.S. Supreme Court has no grounds for reviewing a state court ruling that is based on state law.
Editorials: The courts may address partisan gerrymandering. Virginia and Maryland, take note. | The Washington Post
Courts have historically shied away from striking down redistricting plans for fear of showing favor to one party in a process that is inherently political. But recent decisions by state and federal judges in North Carolina and Pennsylvania suggest that the judicial branch thinks partisan gerrymandering has gone too far and needs to stop. We hope lawmakers in Maryland and Virginia are paying attention and that those decisions serve as a trigger for them to overhaul how their states’ legislative and congressional districts are drawn.
Across the nation, judges are discovering that if you look for it, partisan gerrymandering actually is all around you. Courts have historically been reluctant to strike down redistricting plans on the basis of political bias—unwilling to appear to be favoring one party—but Monday afternoon, the Pennsylvania state supreme court ruled that the state’s maps for U.S. House violate the state constitution’s guarantees of free expression and association and of equal protection. That follows a ruling earlier this month in North Carolina, in which a federal court struck down the state’s maps, the first time a federal court had ruled a redistricting plan represented an unconstitutional gerrymander. The decision was stayed by the U.S. Supreme Court, which is already considering another partisan gerrymandering case from Wisconsin. The court has also agreed to hear another case, from Maryland, and rejected a case from Texas on procedural grounds.
Pennsylvania’s top Republican lawmakers asked the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday to stop an order by the state’s highest court in a gerrymandering case brought by Democrats that threw out the boundaries of its 18 congressional districts and ordered them redrawn within three weeks. Republicans who control Pennsylvania’s Legislature wrote that state Supreme Court justices unconstitutionally usurped the authority of lawmakers to create congressional districts and they asked the nation’s high court to put the decision on hold while it considers their claims.